2021 Rhodes scholarship awarded to BCG Research Agronomist

BCG’s Research Agronomist, Kate Maddern, has been awarded the prestigious Victorian Rhodes Scholarship for 2021.

The news was announced by the Governor of Victoria, the Honourable Linda Dessau AC, on Saturday 31 October via Twitter after a comprehensive selection process from a field of approximately 40 applicants.

“We are extremely proud of, and excited for, Kate and the opportunities this scholarship represents for her and for Australian Agriculture more widely” said BCG CEO, Fiona Best.

Not-withstanding COVID restrictions, Kate will commence her Masters in Policy and a Masters in Economics in October 2021 at Oxford University, England.

Kate grew up on her family’s cropping and livestock farm at Kaniva in Victoria’s West Wimmera. She completed her primary and secondary education at Kaniva College before going to Monash University in Melbourne to pursue her interests in agricultural science.

She came to Birchip in late 2018 after completing a Bachelor of Science Advanced – Global Challenges (Honours) and undertook her honours year with NSW Department of Primary Industries where she investigated how research outcomes could be best communicated with farmers.

Kate is an active member of the Birchip community including being an umpire, player and subcommittee member for the Birchip Watchem Netball Club, a general member of the Birchip Community Forum and member of the local Book Club.

Here, Kate provides an insight into the process and her motivations for applying.

Why did you apply?

It seemed like a good opportunity to study at a place of renowned learning. I have studied the science of Australian Agriculture and now I want to learn more about the economics and policy. These are the other two ‘levers’ that influence farmers and their rural communities. These complex challenges are faced by farmers all the time including accounting for carbon-emissions, the recent taxes on barley exports and levies on Australian pulses in India. Science, policy and markets all come into play.

I was also inspired after reading the book:  ‘The Shepherd’s Life’ by James Rebanks about a man who comes from a long line of sheep farmers in the Lake District in England and ends up advising at the UNESCO World Centre in Paris on how to help communities benefit from tourism.  

What will your studies entail?

I will undertake a Masters in Policy and a Masters in Economics which will take a year each to complete (two years in total). I will be bringing my own interests to the case studies. I am the second Australian recipient to have an Agricultural background.

I will live in a college at Oxford University.

Where did your interest for studying agriculture start and where has it taken you?

I was always curious about how stuff worked and annoyed my parents, Geoffrey and Sharon, with lots of questions when I was little. Growing up I worked on the farm at weekends including shifting sheep, chipping weeds and crop inspections.

I missed out on getting into Vet. Science by one mark so I decided to get into the course via the Bachelor of Science Advanced. My ambitions changed while I was studying in Melbourne and I realised how much I missed the farm. I then finished my degree by completing my Honours with the NSW Department of Primary Industries Soils Unit.

Coming to BCG seemed the natural progression. I get to see the science in action and to talk with farmers, drive tractors and undertake applied research.

What was the selection process like?

The process started in September this year, I had to provide a resume, personal statement and five letters of reference. The top nine applicants underwent an initial interview and the final five were interviewed again.

It was challenging, the questions required me to think on my feet, but then again my work at BCG requires me to stand up in front of 150 farmers (at Trials Review Day) and present information which can be daunting too!

What are your long-term aspirations? What would you like to work on for Australian Agriculture in the future?

My work here at BCG has highlighted how quickly farmers adopt practices that help to make their business both sustainable and profitable. Farmers need to be recognised for the good they are already doing for the environment, and I would like to help the farmers be recognised for this.

Ultimately, I want to improve outcomes for Australian agriculture and famers. I know that this will also improve the outcomes for small communities like Birchip and Kaniva in areas like income, health and education.

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